Living as Belonging to Jehovah
“Both if we live and if we die, we belong to Jehovah.”—Rom. 14:8
1. On what matters should the Christian congregation be at unity?
TRUE Christians are interested in living at peace with others. (Rom. 12:18) Members of the Christian congregation do this by giving attention to the more important things and minimizing the things that are not essential for promoting faith. (1 Tim. 1:4) Among the important things, they seek to have unity of faith and action. As an illustration of this unity, the apostle Paul points to the human body. Just as the members of a healthy body operate in a unified way in the interests of the whole body, which enables it to get a worthwhile work done, so it is in the Christian congregation. There should be no division in this “body,” but “its members should have the same care for one another.”—1 Cor. 12:25.
2. While there is unity, why do Christians not see and do all things alike?
2 However, this unity is not uniformity. The fact that Christians all believe in the one Almighty God and in his Son Jesus Christ, who is Head over the congregation, does not make them like “peas in a pod,” nor does it cause them to speak mechanically, as would robots. No, each has his unique personality, his own viewpoint on matters not essential to salvation. Each differs from the others, more or less, in his way of arranging affairs and of doing things, even in daily routines of work, in relaxation and amusement. This is to a large extent because circumstances and backgrounds of individuals vary greatly.
3, 4. How does true Christian “live to Jehovah”?
3 Nevertheless, whatever Christians do, they are to do wholeheartedly as to Jehovah God. One Christian may not fully understand why another one sees or does things in a certain way. But he realizes that God is the Judge of his servants. And, just as the Christian tries to do all things to the best of his understanding and ability in order to please Jehovah, so he attributes the same conscientious motives to his brothers. The apostle says on this:
“None of us, in fact, lives with regard to himself only, and no one dies with regard to himself only; for both if we live, we live to Jehovah, and if we die, we die to Jehovah. Therefore both if we live and if we die, we belong to Jehovah.”—Rom. 14:7, 8.
4 Even the most sincere, conscientious Christian has imperfections and faults and therefore does not always stay free from selfish acts. But it is not his great object in life to become rich or to indulge in a life of pleasure and ease. He is not living with regard to himself or for himself only. His main pursuit in life is to please God by doing His will. He is willing to die at any time if his death can serve God’s purpose. And just as he lived his life as belonging to God, so in death Jehovah counts him as His. In fact, in facing death he is sure of a resurrection, because Jehovah views as living, not as dead, those who make him their God.—Matt. 22:31, 32; Rom. 4:17.
ALLOW EACH ONE TO GOVERN HIS PERSONAL AFFAIRS
5. (a) What is the most important work? (b) How should a Christian view the way another person spends his time and energies?
5 The most important work a person can do is to help others to gain and maintain a good standing with God and Christ. But other things also need to be done. A man who devotes time in proclaiming the “good news” may decide to build a new home, or enlarge his home, for his family. Because he spends time and money on this, other Christians should not conclude that necessarily he is materialistic. They are judging him if they say, ‘He is “cooling off” in love for the truth.’ The man may do this because he feels that it is a Christian’s duty to have a presentable, respectable home in the eyes of the community. Perhaps he will use that home as a meeting place for a congregation group.
6. How might a person find himself wrongly acting as judge of his brother with regard to forms of relaxation?
6 Another conscientious Christian may choose a form of relaxation that is not wrong in itself. He keeps it secondary to his serving Kingdom interests. Others likely would not select that particular way as refreshing for them, but would consider it a waste of time. But they would be judging the Christian if they say that he is living for himself and not with regard to Jehovah, or that he is divided between ‘serving God and mammon.’—Luke 16:13, Authorized Version.
7. Why cannot the Christian prescribe what is best for another with respect to material possessions?
7 Every one of us has his own view as to what material things he needs or can have, while continuing to put Kingdom interests first, sharing zealously in the urgent work of proclaiming the “good news” to others. (Matt. 6:33; Mark 13:10) A man may possess a fair amount of worldly goods and still retain command over them, using them to Jehovah’s praise. Another may be of a nature that he cannot control riches and is tempted to let them take him away from spiritual things. He needs to ‘pummel his body’ and learn to exercise self-control, having in mind his foremost obligation to proclaim “the good news.” (1 Cor. 9:16, 27) But another Christian should not presume to judge or act as a “conscience” for this person, though he may offer kindly help and counsel to one who is succumbing to a love of money.—1 Tim. 6:17.
VIEW NO MAN “ACCORDING TO THE FLESH”
8. How can both the poor man and the rich man exult as to their respective positions in the truth?
8 Jesus’ half brother James says, in this regard: “Let the lowly brother exult over his exaltation, and the rich one over his humiliation, because like a flower of the vegetation he will pass away.” (Jas. 1:9, 10) The lowly one, not having possessions or prominence in this system of things, can exult because in the world he was disregarded, but now he is considered as being on the same level as the rich one in the judgment of God and of his fellow Christians. He is a ‘fellow citizen of the holy ones and a member of the household of God.’ (Eph. 2:19) He has the surpassing riches of serving God, and ahead of him lies the reward of life. The rich man can exult over the fact that he has been brought to see that it is useless to spend his energies in the amassing of wealth. From his new Christlike, humble position he can appreciate the “deceptive power of riches” and the folly of trusting in them. (Mark 4:19) He knows that “the things seen are temporary, but the things unseen are everlasting.” He now looks to the same reward as does the lowly one.—2 Cor. 4:18.
9. Why should we “know no man according to the flesh”?
9 Based on these truths, the fine rule for all Christians is set forth by the apostle: “[Christ] died for all that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised up. Consequently from now on we know no man according to the flesh.” (2 Cor. 5:15, 16) What a man is spiritually, not what he appears to be from a fleshly, material standpoint, is what counts with God. We should hold to this evaluation of matters.
10. Why should we keep in mind that Christ is Lord over the dead and the living?’
10 That the true Christian cannot rightly regard matters in any other way is shown also by the apostle’s words. After saying, “We belong to Jehovah,” he continues: “For to this end Christ died and came to life again, that he might be Lord over both the dead and the living.” (Rom. 14:9) Now as Lord he is able to help Christians to live their lives successfully for the things of God. As he has “conquered the world,” so they also can conquer. (John 16:33; Heb. 7:25) As Lord over the dead, Christ has the authority and the power to bring them back to life. Comfortingly, throughout a life of serving God, and even in death, they are never abandoned.—Rom. 8:31-34, 38, 39.
11. Why is it completely out of place for Christians to be judging their brothers?
11 Paul is saying these things not merely to repeat the hope that the Christian should already possess. He is using this argument as proof that there is no place for the Christian to judge his brother, because that brother belongs totally to God. He makes the point of his argument in the next few verses, saying:
“But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you also look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written: ‘“As I live,” says Jehovah, “to me every knee will bend down, and every tongue will make open acknowledgment to God.”’ So, then, each one of us will render an account for himself to God. Therefore let us not be judging one another any longer.”—Rom. 14:10-13.
PRIMARILY, AVOID STUMBLING OTHERS
12, 13. How do both the apostle Paul and Jesus Christ point out the thing each needs to do, rather than to be a judge?
12 In the congregation at Rome some had been judging the actions and motives of others who had different opinions and different conscientious scruples. This was wrong and dangerous to all involved. It was displeasing to the great Judge, before whom none had a preferred standing. Paul shows a far better way. To those who were prone to judge, he now says: “Rather make this your decision [or, “judge”], not to put before a brother a stumbling block or a cause for tripping.”—Rom. 14:13. (See The Kingdom Interlinear Translation.)
13 They could turn their propensity for judging others to a good advantage by judging themselves instead and by determining to supervise their own conduct more closely. Jesus had warned: “Stop judging that you may not be judged; for with what judgment you are judging, you will be judged. . . . How can you say to your brother, ‘Allow me to extract the straw from your eye’; when, look! a rafter is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First extract the rafter from your own eye, and then you will see clearly how to extract the straw from your brother’s eye.”—Matt. 7:1-5; compare 1 Corinthians 11:31; 2 Corinthians 13:5.
14. What does it mean to cause a brother to ‘stumble’? Give an example.
14 To cause another to stumble would be to incite him to sin, for sin is represented in the Bible as a fall. (1 Cor. 10:12; 1 Tim. 6:9; compare Matthew 5:27-30.) A Christian could make a brother stumble in this way: He might do something that he has the Christian freedom to do, without first ascertaining whether this might hurt the conscience of the brother. For example, this brother may have qualms of conscience with regard to alcoholic beverages. Yet the Christian may drink before the brother, or offer him a drink. The brother may think, ‘Well, he is a mature Christian, so maybe I can follow his pattern.’ So he is emboldened, and goes ahead. But at the same time his conscience is telling him that it is not right. It is condemning him. He is not acting out of faith, or as unto God. Therefore, he has been made to stumble. His conscience is wounded and he is dejected because he feels that he has sinned. It may be hard for him to recover.—1 Cor. 8:12, 13; Rom. 14:23.
15. A Christian’s insisting on doing a certain thing because he has a “right” to do it, could cause what sin on the part of a fellow believer?
15 Or, the action of the Christian in insisting on his “freedom” to do something that under normal circumstances he has the right to do could cause the one with a weak conscience to become a judge of him. His unwisely exercising such “freedom” could cause the weaker one to start entertaining false suspicions and jealousies. This could endanger the peace and unity of the congregation.
16. Why does one Christian refrain from doing some things that another one considers perfectly all right?
16 Paul gives the reason why one Christian may decide not to do something, the doing of which is perfectly all right for the other one: “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is defiled in itself; only where a man considers something to be defiled, to him it is defiled.”—Rom. 14:14.
17, 18. (a) What broad freedom does the Christian have, as illustrated by the apostle Paul? (b) Why were some early Christians unable to exercise this freedom fully?
17 The apostle shows the broad freedom that Christians actually have by speaking of food, which, he says, “God created to be partaken of with thanksgiving by those who have faith and accurately know the truth.” “The reason for this,” he continues, “is that every creation of God is fine, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified through God’s word [which approves it] and prayer over it.”—1 Tim. 4:3-5.
18 What God created and designated for a certain purpose, such as food, is fine, and the Christian may eat any of it without sinning—it is clean. But some, especially among the Jewish members of the early Christian congregation, had consciences weak on the point of foods that had been prohibited under the Mosaic law. (Acts 10:14, 15) Even though other Christians explained the matter, long usage and custom made it hard for their consciences to consider such food clean. Of course, they did not have to eat it. But someone else might realize that God had declared the Law to be abolished on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice, and that therefore all foods were “legal” and clean. He could therefore eat wholeheartedly, thanking God for his provisions.
19, 20. (a) Describe the difference between things that must be done and things that are optional to the Christian. (b) How can a Christian who is determined to exercise his Christian freedom be “no longer walking in accord with love”?
19 However, should the Christian having this knowledge eat in the presence of the Jewish Christian? Paul answers: “If because of food your brother is being grieved, you are no longer walking in accord with love. Do not by your food ruin that one for whom Christ died.”—Rom. 14:15.
20 While the example used here is food, the principle covers anything that we might have a right to do, and yet is an optional matter. However, there are things that God commands must be done, involving integrity, righteousness and obedience. They are the “important things.” (Phil. 1:10) No Christian may properly compromise or fail on these points. But to go ahead stubbornly on matters of personal preference or opinion, not caring for the feelings of other Christians, is not acting in accord with love. That which is not done out of love is of no value to the doer.—1 Cor. 13:1-3.
21. What effect could uncaring action have on another?
21 Furthermore, headstrong action would be very unwise. It could pain another brother, even though that brother’s opinion that the action is wrong might not be well founded. He could become downhearted, angry, even disgusted. The injury could go so far as to bring his faith to ruin. Christ, who gave his life for humankind, is his Owner. (Jude 4) He counts this brother, bought by his blood, as precious to him, and he certainly will not be pleased with the one who, because of insisting on his own opinion, either judges his brother or gives cause for tripping.—Compare Matthew 18:6, 14.
22. What, then, should we make it our determination to do?
22 By living to Jehovah, then, we know that “all things [that God has provided for us to use or do] are lawful; but not all things are advantageous [they depend on time, circumstances, and what is for the welfare of others]. All things are lawful; but not all things build up. Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.”—1 Cor. 10:23, 24.
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A Christian should not stumble another by offering him drink or food that his conscience rejects